Best bike racks for cars: Transport your bike by car safely and securely

Thule bike rack on a car
(Image credit: Thule)

The best bike racks for cars mean that you've got the flexibility to take your bike with you to ride further afield, be that for events and races, for a vacation, a trip to the trailhead or bike park, or simply because you want to ride somewhere different.

Whichever you choose, you'll need to be able to attach your bike easily enough that you're not spending ages mounting and dismounting it, but securely enough that it won't work loose on rough roads. You also need to ensure it's not easy for a thief to remove if you stop for a break. 

It's worth thinking about how much lifting you need to do too. If you've got a lightweight bike, lifting it onto the roof of a car might not be too much effort, so one of the best roof bike racks might be a good option, but if you're riding an electric bike and driving an SUV, roof mounting could be back-breaking work. In this case, a hitch-mounted rack might be a better option. Of course, those whose cars don't have a tow hitch will be best served by the best trunk bike racks

Whichever you choose, there are a lot of things that separate the best bike racks from the rest, so making a decision might at first feel overwhelming. Luckily for you, we've done a lot of the hard work for you. We've spent years testing all bike racks to find which offer the best build quality, security, ease of use and more, and we've rounded up what we think are the best bike racks available for each different type of mount. 

Fear not, if you get through our list and you're still a little unsure, at the bottom of the page there's a buyer's guide on how to choose the right one for you. 

Best bike racks that mount to a hitch or tow-ball

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Tow ball, or tow hitch, based racks are not the cheapest option but they are often the most convenient and accessible to most people. Trucks and larger vehicles will come with a 2in receiver tube. However, even if your vehicle doesn't have anything from the factory, there's almost always a retrofit kit available. You'll want to look for a quality system that mounts to the frame rails and not the bumper and what's available will depend on the tow ratings for the vehicle in question. 

Keep in mind that in the US, a 1 1/4 receiver tube can be one of two different types of receivers. Both class 1 and class 2 hitches use the same size but they are different. You'll want to search carefully to see what the rack manufacturers rate their racks for. A class 1 hitch limits the insertion depth and, in some cases, even if a rack is the right size, it won't mount. 

Once you've figured out what will work for your car and sorted the vehicle side, there are some distinct advantages. Choosing a hitch option from our list of one of the best bike racks for cars will often mean a tray-style rack with no possibility of bike, or vehicle, damage. If your vehicle is tall, you don't have to lift a bike over your head and if you leave it on, many will tilt out of the way for access. When you'd rather remove the rack, it's usually easy. 

Another consideration for this style of rack is local laws and regulations. In Australia for example, if the rack obscures your licence plate, you’ll need an official accessory plate from the RTA; similar rules apply in Europe. The rack will also need to illuminate the plate to ensure visibility from at least 20m away in poor light conditions. In the eyes of the law, the classic photocopy or piece of cardboard with your plate number scribbled in sharpie will earn you a hefty fine. That’s not all; you may also cop a fine for driving around with an empty hitch rack on the back of your car. The moral of the story is to do your due diligence about what's required in your country before making a purchase.

Positives

  • Hitch-mount racks are easy to fit and remove from your car
  • Some are foldable when not in use
  • Their position means you needn't lift bikes far from the ground
  • Some tilt away from the car, allowing access to the boot/trunk
  • They are typically compatible with all styles of bike, without axle compatibility concerns

Negatives

  • Vulnerable to a crash
  • Requires your car to have a tow ball/hitch
  • They can obscure your vehicle registration plate and lights, which if left unresolved, can be illegal

A vehicle with a tow bar mounted bike rack fitted (Image credit: Josh Ross)
The best bike rack for cars that's easily removable and hitch mounted

Specifications

Type: Hitch
Style: Tray
Frame Contact: No

Reasons to buy

+
Tilts down for hatch access
+
25lb rack weight makes it easy to add and remove from vehicle
+
Optional single bike extension is a quick install
+
Includes strap extenders for larger wheel/tyre bikes
+
Side to side adjustment to avoid bike contact if used with extension

Reasons to avoid

-
Hitch attachment requires tools
-
Bar coming out of the hitch is lengthy limiting approach angles
-
Hitch lock is flimsy
-
No easy way to manage wrenches needed for adjustment
-
Hard to buy in the UK

Not everyone needs to carry a bunch of heavy bikes. Also, not everyone wants to leave their rack attached to the car when not in use. If you only occasionally use a bike rack and you tend to ride alone, or at least drive to the ride alone, then the Rockymounts MonoRail Solo is a perfect choice. The price is lower than other options and it's exceptionally light at only 25lbs. Taking it off the car and storing it is an easy one-handed affair. It also doesn't lock you into your current situation. If you decide you need to start carrying a second bike the MonoRail add-on allows adding capability. A few screws and a five-minute transformation will have you ready to double your load capability. For the times when you aren't using the MonoRail add-on, it's just as light and easy to handle as the base unit.   

(Image credit: Josh Ross)
The best bike rack for cars when you want a hitch mount and every feature possible

Specifications

Type: Hitch
Style: Tray
Frame Contact: No

Reasons to buy

+
Integrated workstand
+
Easy to tilt
+
Integrated holder for 8mm wrench to adjust trays
+
Hitch cam lock keeps rack from wobbling
+
Stable when standing vertically for storage

Reasons to avoid

-
Large and awkward to manoeuvre when storing

Kuat makes some of the best-looking car bike racks on the market. It uses a half-wheel loop design similar to the Thule Pro XT as well as a ratchet strap meaning it can accommodate a range of wheel sizes and tyres of up to 4.8in in width. The wheel cradles are adjustable to avoid bikes bumping into each other on the rack and there are removable cable locks. 

The installation process is tool-free and an expanding adaptor takes up space in your car's hitch receiver to eliminate wobbles. The tilt switch can be engaged hands-free and there is even a brilliant bike repair stand built-in for adjustments and repairs.

Best bike racks: Yakima FoldClick 2

(Image credit: Yakima)

Yakima FoldClick 2

Best bike rack for cars when you need a towbar mount

Specifications

Type: Hitch
Style: Tray
Frame Contact: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight and easy to install
+
Taillights
+
E-bike rated

Reasons to avoid

-
Wheel trays not adjustable
-
Arms can be awkward to use with non-traditional frames

Yakima’s FolkClick 2 car bike rack utilises the towbar instead of the hitch receiver and has a surprisingly high weight limit — you can easily carry two e-bikes and still have weight left over. Not only is the rack quick and easy the install but it weighs just 14kg. The big selling point here, however, is its ability to quickly fold away, not to mention the inclusion of a ramp to help you get your bike in place come loading time.

Its design features two wheel-trays as well as arms and clamps to grab onto your bike's frame. A foot pedal unclips the base of the rack to tilt it out of the way so you can quickly get into your trunk. The setup also includes a locking system for both the bikes and rack itself.

Best roof bike racks

Most roof racks attach to crossbars. For some vehicles that will mean factory rails that come pre-installed but even if you've got a flat roof, there are options. Aftermarket brands offer a range of bars to fit the flat roof of most vehicles with options that range in price and style. There are less expensive square bars or sleek aerodynamic offerings. 

Bikes are then secured to the roof using the frame, front wheel or front axle. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages; however, the key thing to consider is will you be able to lift your bike onto the roof in the first place. If you’re driving a tall SUV, consider a hitch or towbar car bike rack, as getting heavy bikes onto the roof can be precarious. For ebikes the weight means this style of rack isn't going to work at all. 

As long as you are comfortable getting your bike up on the roof, there are a few options for how they stay there. Wheel-off systems keep the bike a little lower and make it a little easier to lift up on the roof. The challenge with using the axle to secure the bike is that there are a lot of variations. Different axle standards and hub spacing might mean easy-to-lose adapters. 

The other option is a wheel-on system. This style uses a retention system like what you see on hitch racks but it's up above the car. There are a few that instead grab the downtube but we would tend to steer away from this style. They can scratch your paintwork and, in the worst case, crush the frame. Wheel-on roof-mounted car bike racks are great if you’re transporting bikes with various hub and axle standards. They don't touch the frame but they are a bit less stable, more expensive and require you to lift the bike higher. 

The biggest advantage of a roof system is that it's not something you have to think about when it's not in use. The crossbars are either part of the car, or easy to live with always installed. The racks themselves are much lighter than a hitch system since they separate the bike retention from the car retention. It's also worth considering that if you've got a flat roof the initial investment of a rail system opens your roof up to all kinds of add-ons for different uses. 

As far as bikes go, the roof keeps them safe from backing into something. Bikes on the roof are also safer from other drivers should you get into a fender bender. Don't forget the bike is up there though. There are a lot of sad stories about driving into a garage or a height limiter bar for a car park with bikes still attached.  

Positives

  • Easy access to car boot/trunk
  • Widely compatible with car types
  • Unrestricted view through rear window
  • The best roof bike racks offer can cater for the most bikes

Negatives

  • The high position makes it harder to load bikes
  • You may need to buy roof bars if you don't already have them
  • Be careful driving into height-restricted multi-storey car parks

We've covered the best roof bike racks in a standalone guide, but here are our top picks.

Kuat Piston SR

(Image credit: Future)

Kuat Piston SR

The best roof bike rack for ease of mounting your bike

Specifications

Type: Roof
Style: Wheel on
Frame Contact: No

Reasons to buy

+
Button-controlled locking of the bike to the car
+
Looks great 

Reasons to avoid

-
High price

The high end Kuat Piston SR rack comes with an automated, button-actuated system to lock to your bike's wheels. Called One Tap, it's clever but makes the rack about double the price of many other bike racks. There's an accessory to adapt it to work with a bike with mudguards.

The system also makes the rack heavier than other options, so it's not such a good choice if you regularly mount and dismount your bike rack.

(Image credit: Future)

Yakima HighSpeed

Best bike rack if you have mudguards

Specifications

Type: Roof
Style: Wheel off
Frame Contact: No

Reasons to buy

+
Light and easy to mount to the car
+
Works with mudguards

Reasons to avoid

-
Need to remove the front wheel

The Yakima HighSpeed mounts to Yakima's separate roof bars and has the advantage that it's designed to work with mudguards. You need to remove the front wheel and the fork is secured with a thru-axle which has a torque limiter to guard against overtightening.

The rear wheel is secured with a strap, although we found that to be a little lacking in padding if you want to avoid damage to expensive carbon wheels.

(Image credit: Josh Ross)

Thule UpRide

Best bike rack for cars when you need a roof mount but are worried about scratching the rear wheel

Specifications

Type: Roof
Style: Wheel mount
Frame Contact: No

Reasons to buy

+
Rear wheel holder uses a diagonal ratchet strap with a rubber rim protector
+
No adaptors to keep track of
+
Locking "X" mechanism provides an extra layer of security

Reasons to avoid

-
Folding the system flat might mean adjusting the size of the front wheel retention

There are a lot of similarities between the Thule Upride and the Yakima HighRoad. We've decided to include them both because they are both high-quality wheel-on options for mounting a bike on top of a car. The front mount of the Yakima is a little bit easier to use while the rear strap on the Thule is a little bit nicer and it's more protective of the rear wheel. When it comes to locking, the Thule has the advantage in that there's no cable and instead it's integrated into the rack. The biggest point of differentiation though is going to be the larger system. A key advantage of a roof rack is that it can extend beyond just a single bike rack. If you think you like the other pieces in one system vs the other, you'll want the matching bike rack for that system. 

Best rooftop bike rack for cars - Rockymounts Tomahawk

(Image credit: Josh Ross)

Rockymounts Tomahawk

Best roof bike rack for cars for wide compatibility

Specifications

Type: Roof
Style: Wheel mount
Frame Contact: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Wide compatibility with wheel sizes
+
Handles tyres up to 5 inches wide

Reasons to avoid

-
Chance that the fork legs can get scratched

The Tomahawk is simple to use and works with a wide range of bike sizes and wheel sizes, using a front-wheel loop and a wheel stop to secure the bike upright, with a strap around each wheel to keep it secure. It can handle everything from road bikes to fat bike tyre width, covering all the likely requirements. 

The main issue with the rack is that the mount comes into contact with the fork legs, so there's the chance of rubbing your bike's paint, particularly if the bike is dirty. It's not a dealbreaker for us, but whenever we use it, we add in a bit of helicopter tape to protect things. 

Best trunk bike racks

Trunk and boot racks attach to the back of your car using straps, with feet stabilising the whole thing against the car. With trunk/boot racks, installing the rack correctly is paramount. If you don’t have something in the right place or pulled tautly, it can damage the paint on your vehicle. 

The other challenge with these types of racks is that they work best with a traditional style of bike. The ideal bike for going on a trunk, or boot mount rack has a flat top tube and plenty of room in the main triangle. Any bike with a big slope in the top tube, or something heavier, is going to be much more difficult to mount. 

The advantage of trunk mount racks is that they are super light and inexpensive. If it's rare that you use a rack and you just need to occasionally transport an older road bike then these might be worth a look. The price is going to be well below what you will pay for any other type of rack and they are so small you can keep one in the car for emergencies. 

Positives

  • Usually the simplest and cheapest option
  • Simple ratchet-strap fitting so no specific fixings are needed
  • Position means it's relatively easy to fit and remove bikes

Negatives

  • Restricted view through the rear window
  • Restricted access to trunk/boot
  • Can be hard to fit bikes without a horizontal top tube
  • Can obstruct your car's registration plate and lights, meaning a separate number and light board is required
  • The contact points can damage car paintwork

We've rounded up a longer separate list of the best trunk bike racks, but here are some of the standout picks. 

Best bike racks: Saris Bones 2-Bike

Image of a Saris bones 2 car rack (Image credit: Saris)

Saris Bones 2-Bike

Best bike rack for cars if you like the idea of a timeless design

Specifications

Type: Trunk/Boot
Style: Top tube
Frame Contact: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Seatpost strap 
+
Curved arm separates bikes

Reasons to avoid

-
Nothing to secure the front wheel 
-
Can't be locked to vehicle

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That is the mantra Saris has used with its Bones 2-Bike trunk/boot car bike rack. The design was first introduced in 1996 and hasn't changed all that much since.

It's available in two- and three-bike versions and is made from 100 per cent recyclable materials and everything from the articulating feet to the arms are adjustable to make the rack fit onto just about any car — including those with small spoilers. 

The arm that supports the bikes is curved which provides extra clearance, and the seatpost strap prevents the bikes from wobbling around too much when everything is mounted. Unfortunately, the front wheel is still free to move around, although this is something that even the best car bike racks of this style fail to efficiently address.

Thule Outway Platform 2 bike rack

(Image credit: Thule)

Thule OutWay Platform 2

Best bike rack for cars to avoid needing an additional number plate

Specifications

Type: Trunk/Boot
Style: Platform
Frame Contact: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Raises bikes above the number plate
+
Less likely that the bike will move around than with a hanging system

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy
-
Expensive

The Thule OutWay bike rack sits the bikes on a platform, rather than the normal system which suspends the bike from the top tube. That means that the bike is immobilised better and it's also lifted above the car's numberplate, so you don't need a separate plate to stay legal.

 On the flip side, the rack is heavier and more expensive than other trunk-mounted options. 

B'Twin 320 Car Bike Rack

(Image credit: Decathlon)

B'Twin 320 Car Bike Rack

Best bike rack for cars if you are worried about keeping the number plate clear

Specifications

Type: Trunk/boot
Style: Top tube
Frame Contact: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Budget-friendly
+
Room for up to three bikes
+
Folds away neatly for storage
+
Sits high to not obstruct registration plate or lights

Reasons to avoid

-
You'll need adapters for some bikes
-
Not as much padding as some other models listed here

This affordable and foldable bike rack from Decathlon can carry up to three bikes, and is designed to sit high up so it doesn't get in the way of your registration plate or rear lights. When not in use it folds flat and can be easily stored away until you need it again.

It features adjustable straps for a good fit, and the feet that come into contact with the car are rubberised to protect the paintwork. It does come with some padding to protect your bike frames from damage, however, we'd also recommend supplementing it with a bit extra to be safe.

Bikes that don't feature a horizontal top tube will need an adapter to hold them in place.

Hollywood Express 3 Bike Car Rack

(Image credit: Hollywood)

Hollywood Express 3 Bike Car Rack

Best bike rack for cars if you want to keep an emergency rack in the car

Specifications

Type: Trunk/Boot
Style: Top tube
Frame Contact: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Folds away neatly into the trunk/boot when not in use
+
Arrives fully assembled
+
Rubber tabs to protect the paintwork

Reasons to avoid

-
You must use all the straps to prevent wobbling

If you're looking for something simple and budget-friendly, the Hollywood F9 Express E3 bike rack could be the ticket. Able to transport up to three bikes at a time, it's super sturdy and capable, as long as you use all six of its straps to achieve adequate grip on a solid area of your car. Without this there's a risk of wobbling.

To keep things as simple as possible, the rack arrives readily assembled, so there's no need to scratch your head with an instruction manual (as many of us are loathe to do), and when it's not in use you can fold it neatly away into the boot for storage.

Rubber tabs keep the car's paintwork protected, while the bike frames are shielded from each other with rubber separators.

How to choose the best bike rack for you

There are quite a few things to consider when choosing the best bike rack for your needs. The main issue is whether a rack will work both with your car and with your bike, as we explain below. You also need to consider how easy it is to mount and dismount your bike from the rack. If it's a two-person job and you usually travel solo with your bike, that's a problem. If you are making a sizeable investment, it's a good idea to consult your car manufacturer and the rack manufacturer to ensure the model you like will actually fit your car.

Here's what to think about when choosing the best bike rack for you.

Is my car compatible?

The first, and most important thing to consider when choosing the best bike rack for your needs is to ensure that whatever you buy will be compatible with your car.

To do this, you need to understand how each of the types of bike rack works. Ahead of each section above, we've explained the details of how they function, but a quick run-through is as follows:

Roof-mounted bike racks fit onto the roof bars fitted to your car, which you may need to invest in if you don't have them already. Nearly all cars will allow this, but you'll need to ensure you get ones that are compatible with your car. 

Hitch-mounted bike racks need your car to have a tow ball/hitch fitted. If your car doesn't have one, you can get one fitted but this will come at a cost, of course, so first consider whether it's better value than opting for an alternative type of bike rack. 

Trunk/boot mounted bike racks use straps and clips and simply fix to the rear of your car using tension applied to the straps - usually using a ratchet mechanism. These come in different forms that are compatible with saloon and hatchback-type cars respectively. 

How many bikes do you need to transport?

The next thing to consider is how many bikes you wish to transport. Of course, the more bikes a bike rack can handle, the more expensive it's likely to be, so while a rack that can carry four bikes might be nice to have just in case, you might be paying for something you never actually use. 

This is most pertinent with trunk or hitch-mounted racks, as they're designed to carry a set number of bikes and no more. However when it comes to roof-mounted racks, they're usually designed for a single bike, so you can simply buy more at a later date if the family grows. 

Are your bikes compatible?

The next thing to consider is whether it will actually fit your bike. The questions here depend on the bike & rack you have in mind. 

With roof-mounted racks, they usually hold one or both wheels in a groove to keep the bike steady, and wrap a strap around the wheel to hold it in place. If you're using a bike with fat tyres or deep rims, check the width and strap length to ensure it'll fit. Some then fit a brace bar to the down tube of the bike, clamping it in place. If you're using a bike with deep or thick tube shapes, this is an area to check. Others remove a wheel and bolt the bike into place using the axle, so if you're opting for one of these, check the corresponding axle on your bike to ensure the rack comes with the right sort. 

As for hitch racks, the same applies to the groove in which you fit your wheel, so don't forget to check that'll be compatible. 

And with trunk or boot mounted bike racks, these usually suspend your bike from the top tube, so if you're riding a mountain bike with full suspension, or a hybrid bike with a step-through frame, this could make things difficult, as the bike will be suspended at a potentially insecure angle. It's also worth checking the width between the two braces. If you're trying to transport both adults' and kids' bikes together, then you'll need to strike a balance between wide enough for stability, and narrow enough to fit through the small frame. 

No matter the type of rack, they all have a weight limit, so if you're transporting an e-bike, then be sure to double-check the combined weight of your bikes and ensure it doesn't exceed the limit. 

Is there anything else to consider?

Finally, if you've reached this point and different types of bike rack are still compatible and available to you, then consider the other non-essential characteristics of each. Ahead of each section above, we've listed pros and cons for each type, which should help you decide, but it's worth weighing up the importance of things like how easy it is to load and unload, access to your trunk/boot, vulnerability to crashing and how they obstruct your visibility whilst driving. 

How do we choose these products?

We are a dedicated group of cyclists and we try to ride more than the average person. We ride when it's cold, when it's hot, when it's raining, and sometimes even when it's snowing. We spend time racing and we spend time exploring. 

As part of all that time, we are always testing new products to share with you. We have the opportunity to drive to more rides and try out more options for carrying bikes on cars. Each time we have a failure, that builds our experience with what works and what doesn't so that we can share that knowledge with you. We've brought together a collection of products that covers a wide range of use cases so that no matter what kind of bike, what kind of vehicle, and even what country you might be in, there's something for you.

Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutia of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 140 lb.
Rides: Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Enve Melee, Look 795 Blade RS, Priority Continuum Onyx

With contributions from